Decades of long drought and severe floods

Climate Council report predicts grim future for seasonal conditions


Weather
Jim McDonald, Red Braes, Quirindi, with Climate Councillor Professor Steffen during the launch of the Climate Council’s new report. Pictures: Lucy Kinbacher

Jim McDonald, Red Braes, Quirindi, with Climate Councillor Professor Steffen during the launch of the Climate Council’s new report. Pictures: Lucy Kinbacher

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Currently 99.2 per cent of the state is still in drought, and researchers don't think it'll get any better.

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NEW England producers will experience longer droughts and more severe flooding events for the next “couple of decades”, a new climate change report has found. 

On the same day that new Department of Primary Industry drought maps showed 99.2 per cent of the state was still battling dry conditions, a Climate Council report released on Tuesday found little hope of any immediate relief from severe seasons. 

The report was the work of seven leading climate change experts who warned increasing temperatures and declining streamflow would have a major impact on the Tamworth, Armidale, Moree and Tenterfield regions. 

The second half of the century could get much worse unless we rapidly reduce global emissions, including emissions here in Australia. - Professor Will Steffen

Climate Councillor, Professor Will Steffen, said the last two years of drought conditions were as severe as the worst part of the Millennium Drought and would only get worse.

“Further increases in temperature are ‘locked-in’ to the system until the middle of the century because of the greenhouse gas pollution we’ve already emitted,” he said.

The report found the severity of drought has been exacerbated by climate change and the New England is projected to experience more severe droughts in future.

The report found the severity of drought has been exacerbated by climate change and the New England is projected to experience more severe droughts in future.

“The second half of the century could get much worse unless we rapidly reduce global emissions, including emissions here in Australia.”

Quirindi grower Jim McDonald has already seen the impacts on his property, Red Braes, over the last two summers.

Running 320 hectares, including 120 hectares of share farm irrigation, Mr McDonald could remember a time when dryland sorghum crops were his “bread and butter”.

But currently a neighbouring failed sorghum crop sits waiting for soil moisture. 

A failed sorghum crop in the Quirindi region. Mr McDonald now grows pivot irrigated cotton on a share farm.

A failed sorghum crop in the Quirindi region. Mr McDonald now grows pivot irrigated cotton on a share farm.

While many researchers refer to a 1C temperature increase with climate change, Mr McDonald sweltered through temperatures 4.2C higher than normal across January, February and March this year.

“The summer before that...was 3.6C higher than the average maximum temperature so to us we are just not experiencing 1C, we are experiencing 3C and 4C average maximum temperatures,” he said.

“We used to get an average of 20 days about 35C here, those last two summers we have had over 60 days. 

“Point is that most of our plants stop growing, they stop photosynthesising above about 38C so when we are getting into those temperatures we are having a severe impact on our ability to grow things and that must be considered.” 

The report found streamflow for the Murray-Darling Basin was also impacted, reducing by 41 per cent in the past 20 years.

Researchers predict it will drop further based on decreasing cool season rainfall in southern Australia, which had already lowered by 15 per cent across Victoria, southern NSW, South Australia and south west Western Australia.

Climate change experts say renewable energy will ease the impending problem.

Climate change experts say renewable energy will ease the impending problem.

Short-term drought solutions were described as “futile” within the report, placing an emphasis on the need for more renewable energy uptake. 

Mr McDonald said it was time to adopt a climate policy, rather than focusing solely on drought. 

“Drought policy needs to consider that there will be floods in the middle as well, that’s an extreme event,” he said.

“(Professor Steffen) is telling us (floods) will come more often, probably bigger and sharper floods, which have sometimes exactly the same impact on our production potential as what a drought does.” 

Australian Farm Institute Executive Director Richard Heath echoed his calls. 

“Financial resilience policy to sustain increasingly variable weather impacted income must also be part of a full suite of preparedness measures,” he said.

“Government must acknowledge that there has been market failure in the provision of income insurance products for agriculture and provide the assistance required to bring this market to maturity.”

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